Contact sports are sports that involve a high degree of intentional physical contact among participants during the course of the game. The contact happens in the form of pushing, tackling, colliding, kicking, and other actions. Or, they can involve contact between a player and objects, e.g. goal frames, the ground or the ice, as is the case with ice hockey.
Some common contact sports include:
- Boxing, karate, and mixed martial arts;
Sometimes a contact sport is modified, especially for children, to eliminate the contact element from it, e.g. flag football. These are sometimes known as “limited contact sports”. Sports that involve a very high degree of intentional contact are often known as “full-contact sports.”
What Are Some Common Contact Sports Injuries?
Injuries from participating in contact sports cover the range from minor bruises to serious injuries with long-lasting consequences. Injury often results from contact by one player with another, which throws them off balance. They may then twist or change direction rapidly. This ends up causing damage to connective tissue, e.g. ligaments and tendons. A forceful direct contact may also cause dislocation of a joint.
In some cases they can be more serious than normal sports injuries. Some common contact sports injuries include:
- Cuts and scrapes;
- Dislocated joints: Dislocated shoulders are one of the most common sports injuries;
- Muscle strains;
- Knee injuries;
- Torn tendons and ligaments;
- Broken bones.
Some serious contact sports injuries include head, neck and spinal injuries, broken bones, and damage to internal organs. In some cases, serious conditions such as a full-blown concussion or paralysis can result from very forceful contact. As any sports enthusiast knows, injuries from collisions in contact sports can end promising athletic careers.
Are There Any Legal Issues Associated with Contact Sport Injuries?
In many cases, participants in contact sports sign a waiver which releases coaches and sponsors, such as school districts, colleges and universities, and other participants from legal liability for injuries incurred while playing the sport. In other words, most participants will have consented to the type of activity that occurs during a contact sport.
A person who suffers a sports injury would sue for negligence if they believe that some other person or organization was responsible for causing their injury. The main issue would be the defense of assumption of risk that is available in cases alleging negligence related to sports injuries.
What Is the Doctrine of Assumption of Risk?
The doctrine of assumption of risk simply means that when a person engages in sports activity, they assume the risk that they can be harmed. So, if the person is injured while playing contact sports and they are injured in the regular course of activity that characterizes that sport, they cannot try to hold any other person or organization liable for their injury.
Most states allow the defense of assumption of risk in cases alleging negligence for a sports injury. For example, in California, a person assumes the risk of harm when they play a sport. So if a person is injured, they cannot sue any other person, company, or player they might see as responsible.
Because the doctrine of assumption of risk is a defense to negligence in contact sports, to succeed with a claim of personal injury for a sports injury, the injured person would have to prove something more than ordinary negligence.
They would have to prove the following:
- Intentional Conduct: The conduct on the part of the person who caused the injury was intentional, not just negligent. Moreover, it has to be shown that it was outside the normal range of activity for the sport involved. Given that contact sports can involve forceful collisions and contact, proving this could be challenging;
- Harm: The person claiming negligence was harmed; and
- Causation: The conduct of the person who is claimed to be liable was a substantial factor in causing the harm.
For competitive sports and similar activities, the doctrine of assumption of risk applies. This means that the other players and organizations involved do not have a duty to protect other participants from risk. If a person or organization is sued for negligence, the doctrine of assumption of the risk applies and the injured party most probably would not recover an award of damages.
The rationale for the application of the doctrine of assumption of risk in sports injury cases is that sports activities would probably cease to exist if it were easy to sue for negligence in the sports context. People would avoid participation in athletic activities if every player had to worry about being sued. In addition, the risks of playing football, hockey, rugby and other contact sports should be obvious to anyone who watches these sports and follows the careers of the players.
What If I Have Been the Victim of Sports Violence?
As noted above, the doctrine of assumption of the risk does not protect athletes, coaches and managers in all cases. If an incident involves true sports violence, then the victim may have grounds for a civil case for an intentional tort, e.g. civil battery. Most of the cases in this area involve criminal charges that were made against a professional athlete who engaged in what was clearly intentionally harmful conduct towards another player.
But a civil suit alleging an intentional tort may also be possible. While they are probably not common, in some exceptional circumstances they might be possible. Such legal claims may result in remedies such as an award of damages to compensate the injured party for losses as in a case for negligence.
A somewhat recent example of excessive violence in a contact sport involved two professional hockey players in an National Hockey League game that was played in 2000, A player for the Vancouver Canucks fought with and prevailed over a player for the Boston Bruins. The Bruins player, seeking revenge, tried to start another fight with the same player. When he was not successful, he then slashed at the Canucks player’s head, pushing him to the ice. The Canucks player suffered convulsions immediately. The Bruins player was suspended from play for the rest of the season. He was later charged with and convicted of criminal assault.
Whether the Canucks player filed a civil suit is unknown, but given that the Bruins player was convicted of criminal assault, a civil lawsuit for assault and battery should have been a possibility. This is the type of conduct that can happen. If it did, it would be grounds for a civil lawsuit for an intentional tort that would not be defeated by the defense of assumption of remedies. It involves serious, intentional conduct.
Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for a Contact Sports Injury Legal Issue?
Contact sports injuries can be serious and may involve some complex legal issues as well. You need to consult a personal injury lawyer in your area if you need legal advice or representation regarding a contact sports injury.
Your attorney can review the facts of your case and advise you as to whether it justifies a civil suit that is likely to succeed or would probably be defeated by the doctrine of assumption of risk. Your attorney can offer you guidance for your claim and can represent you throughout the legal process if you decide to proceed with a claim.